Number the Stars

by Lois Lowry (1989)

Number the Stars is Lois Lowry’s account of unique friendship between two ten-year-olds in Nazi-occupied Denmark during WW II.  It won the 1990 Newbery Medal for “the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature” thanks to its tense, emotional, and telling portrayal of how WW II was experienced by children.

Annemarie and Ellen are both Danish, both grappling with the occupying Nazis in their midst, but Ellen is Jewish and that, of course, makes all the difference in their friendship and their potential fates.  The Nazis sought to relocate 8000 Danish Jews and the novel is absorbed in Ellen’s effort to avoid the fate of the Danish Jews.  Number the Stars builds on the dual tension of Ellen’s fate as mediated by the creativity, generosity, and risk-taking of her friend, Anne-Marie.

There are lots of Holocaust novels and this one lives somewhere between The Diary of Anne Frank and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It is an excellent way to introduce young adult readers to the questions raised by these historical events.  Thanks to Lois Lowry, students can imagine how the questions and challenges of Nazi persecution were experienced by ordinary people anywhere in Europe.  They can begin to ask themselves how they would act in trying circumstances where the fate of their peers might have rested in their actions or inactions.

Reading and thinking about questions like these is just what One School, One Book for Middle Schools is all about.  The moments and questions raised by Number the Stars will likely linger and inform your young readers long into high school and beyond.